Review of Leonard Swidler’s “Dialogue for Interreligious Understanding: Strategies for the Transformation of Culture-Shaping Institutions” (Palgrave MacMillan, 2014). 212 pages. $37.00.

This review first appeared on on May 5, 2016.

Leonard Swidler draws on his immense (half-century-plus-years’ worth of) experience and wisdom in interreligious, intercultural, and inter-ideological dialogue to put forth his cumulative vision for what he refers to as the “Virtue and Way of Deep-Dialogue/Critical-Thinking/Emotional-Intelligence/Competitive-Cooperation” (DCEC). Perhaps rather a curiously and cumbersome title, but nonetheless accurate and mostly necessary as it does indeed convey Swidler’s practical and theoretical vision of the power of dialogue between and among persons with various religious and cultural identities. This book, he writes, “aims to help those who are convinced, or who at least suspect, that the tried and true but disastrously unsuccessful methods of Diatribe, Debate, or any of the other aggressive stances against those who think differently from us, need to yield to the new method – the Virtue and Way – not of casual, everyday dialogue” (1-2), but of the aforementioned DCEC.

In so doing, the book proceeds in four parts. Part one gives a general background to Swidler’s thinking as well as some of his well-known guides: understanding of religions as “ways;” the cosmic dance of dialogue understood as that of the head (intellectual), hands (ethical), heart (affective and aesthetic), and holy (communal flourishing); the nature and kinds of dialogue; and the dialogue decalogue and its pastoral application. Perhaps one of the most important lessons from part one is Swidler’s insistence on the nature of Deep Dialogue; that is, Deep Dialogue’s necessity of life transformation among its participants is what sets it apart from other forms of dialogue. In short, “Deep-Dialogue is a conversation between individual persons – and through them, two or more communities or groups – with differing views, the primary purpose of which is for each participant to learn from the other so that s/he can change and grow” (61).

Part two probes the theoretical background of DCEC by introducing its basic documents which may be used in “seminars, retreats, workshops, courses, and the like” (72). These original works of Swidler address DCEC by providing 1) its background, 2) its underlying theory, 3) ten principles that articulate it, 4) three facets of it, 5) its global orientation, 6) its seven stages, and 7) a full-blown syllabus for an online course in DCEC which can also be freely accessed and employed here.

Part three addresses the implications of DCEC, beginning with a chapter that attempts to put its insights “into action in a full integrative ‘whole child’ education program” (129) which ambitiously lays out a proposal for “the renovation of education” (131) in so far as it applies DCEC to the various academic disciplinary modes: reflective and language arts, scientific understanding, political education, peace studies, and the liberal arts. To support this proposal, Swidler offers a report of a successful 2001 pilot group of 75 primary school teachers and administers who applied DCEC to an education model. Part three also includes Swidler’s thinking around, as well as his own version of, an updated Universal Declaration of a Global Ethic.

Part four helpfully concludes the text with some “potential applications” of DCEC, beginning with “an eleven-step program for any group of any sort to follow” (185). This is followed with an impressive 32-hour schedule of a symposium-workshop designed for business leaders detailed down to coffee and lunch breaks. The book as a whole showcases Swidler’s wealth of experience in the context of his passion for life-transforming deep dialogue. Most certainly, this book will serve well as an entry to dialogue for interreligious groups in various contexts. It does indeed directly address the two criteria named in the Palgrave Macmillan series which published it: theory and practice. In this case, the theory and practice of deep dialogue jumps off the pages in an enthusiastic, creative, and engaging manner.

Image courtesy of Palgrave Macmillan.

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